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People of the Year 2017

Huntington resident Ginny Munger Kahn received a proclamation from Suffolk Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) Dec. 19.

A Huntington woman has taken to heart that Earth was made for all to enjoy, big and small, including man’s favorite four-legged friends.

Ginny Munger Kahn, president of Huntington-based The Long Island Dog Owners Group (LI-DOG), has been leading the way to create dog parks and dog-friendly park policies in Suffolk County since 2002. In her most recent victory, she convinced the Huntington Town Board to amend town code Aug. 15 to allow for on-leash walking of dogs in town parks.

“It is the highlight of my day to take my dog for a long walk,” Munger Kahn told TBR News Media in August. “I don’t want to do it just in my neighborhood on the street, but I want to be able to walk my dog in a beautiful public park. It’s been frustrating over the years on Long Island as many towns don’t allow it.”

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said that Munger Kahn was one of the first constituents to sit down and have a meeting with him when he was elected to office. He has come to have a great deal of respect for her and LI-DOG.

“It has many volunteers and is an outstanding non-for-profit organization that does wonderful things not just for our furry friends and beloved family members, but I am sure everyone would agree sharing time in the outdoors with our pets is not just good for them, it’s good for all of us,” Stern said. “It’s good for all of us and our quality of life.

Due to Munger Kahn’s activism, Stern was the leading sponsor on county legislation that directed the Suffolk parks commissioner to identify at least five parks where dog parks could be created in 2007. A decade later, there are 10 such parks on Long Island, seven of which are in Suffolk County including an off-leash beach, plus dozens of on-leash dog walking trails.

“The dog parks are large, attractive and very much appreciated by the people who use them every day,” Munger Kahn said.

Two of the local dog parks that have been created are at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown and West Hills County Park in Huntington.

“By expanding access to and enjoyment of Suffolk County’s beautiful parks and open spaces, Ginny Munger Kahn has helped to materially improve the quality of life of thousands of current and future Suffolk County residents,” reads a proclamation Stern gave to the LI-DOG president at the Dec. 19 county Legislature meeting. “In recognition of [that work], we, the members of the Suffolk County Legislature, do hereby honor Ginny Munger Kahn.”

Munger Kahn has been involved in changing laws and setting precedents not only at the county level, but the town. In 2013, her nonprofit organization supported the town’s dog walking trails initiative, which allowed on-leash dogs at select Huntington parks. But, she wanted more for her four-pawed friends.

“It was kind of crazy to have some parks in the Town of Huntington allow on-leash dogs and the vast majority of town-owned parks not to allow dogs on a leash,” Munger Kahn said in Aug. 2017. “This was confusing to people. The thought was if we adopted standards, a policy more closely aligned with Suffolk County’s policy, it would make enforcement easier.”

As LI-DOG’s representative on the Huntington Greenway Trails Citizens Advisory Committee, she pushed for the town to adopt more uniform park standards for leashed dogs in Huntington Town parks which was approved earlier this year, with two exceptions of Heckscher Park and Centerport’s Betty Allen Twin Pond Nature Park.

A perpetual advocate, Munger Kahn said she hopes once the town’s new policy is proven successful, she will be able to revisit regulations regarding Heckscher Park

The Sorrentino family handed out thousands of free Thanksgiving turkeys to local families. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

When a Huntington business owner gave away 30 turkeys out of the back of a pickup truck on Thanksgiving eve nearly a decade ago, he was shocked to find out there were so many families in need. Rather than shy away from the issue, he started raising funds to turn it into an annual family event where thousands have received their holiday meal.

Lifelong Huntington resident Andre Sorrentino, owner of PAS Professional Automotive Services on New York Avenue, is known for having a larger than life personality to go along with his big heart.

“He’s a very good, very kindhearted person; really a pillar of the Huntington community,” said Huntington Supervisor-elect Chad Lupinacci (R), whose state assemblyman offices are located across the street from Sorrentino’s business. “A lot of people look up to him and people like to work alongside him. He always has the community’s heart with him.”

Lupinacci said he was there that first Thanksgiving, with Sorrentino and his daughter when they handed out turkeys on the streets of Huntington and Huntington Station. He has been amazed to see the annual Sorrentino Trucking Turkey Give Away expand to giving away approximately 2,000 turkeys in 2017 — 1,000 of which were purchased by Sorrentino himself.

The turkeys weren’t enough though. Sorrentino coordinated with Suffolk County’s 2nd Precinct to have police officers help hand out what turned into turkey, all the trimmings and household goods like soap and laundry detergent.

“He’s all about giving back to the community that’s given him so much,” the state assemblyman said.

Andre Sorrentino with his family in 5eptember 2015. Photo by Stephen Jimenez

This August, Sorrentino worked with his friend, George Schwertl, of Lloyd Harbor, and Dom Spada, the second assistant chief of Halesite Fire Department, to coordinate a massive donation drive for Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas. A mass email was sent out by Halesite Fire Chief Greg Colonna that asked residents for donations of nonperishable food, toiletries hygiene products, water, blankets and dog food to be dropped off at participating busineses which included Sorrentino’s auto body shop on New York Avenue.

Schwertl and Sorrentino  paid for five Sprinter vans out of their own pockets and planned  to  drive down to Texas, and distribute the donations by hand themselves. By the time they left, it had grown to include tractor-trailers.

“We want to be positive that when we get there they will take the donations and it will go into the right hands,” Sorrentino said in August, prior to the trip.

He took time away from running his business and his wife, Kim, with their two young daughters to make the drive to Houston. Kim Sorrentino said she’s not surprised by her husband’s trip or charitable actions.

“My husband and his family have been here for so long, and we’re lucky enough we’re in a position where we can help people at this point in our lives,” she said. “We really love Huntington, and we’re trying to make it as good as we can.”

It seems many people from Sorrentino’s employees to firefighters and elected officials have said they know they can turn to him for help when times get tough.

“He’s got a good heart and wants to do things to help people,” said James, an employee of Sorrentino’s who requested his last name not be used. “I’ve seen him help people that pretty much no one else would. He’ll pick a person up. It’s the way he is.

“I think Andre Sorrentino is what is best about this community.”

— William “Doc” Spencer

Northport resident Phyllis Berlin-Sasso called Andre Sorrentino “the kindest human being in Huntington” for the help he gave her.

“I was divorced with three children at the time, and I would get my car repaired by him,” she said. “They helped me out with payment plans to pay for it.”

Several others related similar tales as fire department members from Huntington Manor and Lloyd Harbor said they know they can turn to Andre Sorrentino and his family if they have a resident with an issue — and even if he can’t help — Sorrentino has been known to put them in contact with someone who can.

“I think Andre Sorrentino is what is best about this community,” said Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport).

Many suggested that perhaps, Sorrentino’s charitable nature came from his upbringing by his father, Andre Sorrentino Sr., the owner of Andre’s Shoe Repair in Huntington. But his father said he couldn’t take the credit.

“He is doing things right for the community, it’s simple what he does,” he said. “I’m very proud of him.”

More than 1,000 hours of community service put into gardens, mansion tours, live music and more

Members of the Centerport Garden Club volunteer their time to maintain the Vanderbilt's rose garden. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum.

One of Suffolk County’s museums leads by example in knowing the value of the proverb many hands make light work.

The Vanderbilt Museum, Mansion & Planetarium has been able to delight visitors with its scenic gardens and extensive programs thanks to the time put in by its roughly 135 year-round volunteers who have donated more than 1,000 hours in 2017.

“Volunteers are better than staff as they do work but don’t get paid,” Executive Director Lance Reinheimer said. “Their time is very valuable and it saves the museum a big expense each year.”

A visitor’s experience is shaped by the work of the museum’s volunteers from the minute they enter the estate. Volunteer gardeners designed and planted a garden near the property’s entrance at the request of the executive director. Master gardener Gloria Hall has taken over organizing a group formed by her late husband, Bill, that works on the property each Monday, during the growing season from May to October, helping in every aspect from planting and weeding to designing new features.

“Gloria has done a great job in carrying on the tradition of caring for our gardens,” Reinheimer said.

The gardening clubs involved have also helped design and create gardens that encircle the estate’s celebration tent on the Great Lawn, which overlooks the Long Island Sound. The director said it has added
visually to many of the weddings and special occasions happening on the grounds, anchoring the tent to make it feel like a permanent structure and blend into the property
.

Agnes Ward has spearheaded the Centerport Garden Club in donating its members time to  delicately handling  the Vanderbilt Estate rose garden outside of the planetarium.

“The gardeners really augment my ground staff,” the executive director said. “We’ve made great strides in beautifying the property in the last two years.”

Museum guests who take a tour of the historic Gold Coast mansion may be led around by a volunteer, as hundreds have by guide Ellen Mason who has volunteered at the Vanderbilt since May 2006. The retired school teacher said her passion for history keeps her coming back on Saturdays to share the experience with others.

“I’ve been asked over and over again to get on the payroll,” Mason said. “I refuse. I wanted to volunteer, I want to volunteer at something I love doing and it makes my spirit soar. I love the people who work there, it’s like a whole other family.”

It’s so welcoming that there’s even a former Vanderbilt employee who continues to come back and volunteer. The museum has several longtime volunteers who regularly give freely of their time including Rick Ellison, Mary McKell, Dale Spencer and Marianne Weeks, a
ccording to museum staff.

“There are so many people involved in that Suffolk institution — garden clubs, the living history program, all different types of work,” said Herb Mones, husband of museum trustee Gretchen Oldrin-Mones. “It’s really under the radar. I don’t think the larger community is fully aware of how much the volunteers impact the daily running of that institution that services tens of thousands of school kids each year.”

Once inside the mansion, visitors may be treated to live music played on the antique aeolian pipe organ played by volunteers Bill Caputi and Sheldon Cooper.

My feeling is that Long Island is a mecca for volunteerism,” Reinheimer said, in recognition how generous the museum’s volunteers have been. “Long Islanders give willingly to causes that are worthy.”

John, Jr. and Leslie Kennedy, of Nesconset, both serve as elected county officials. Photos from The Kennedys.

Nesconset resident Leslie Kennedy stepped into Giorgio’s of Nesconset Pizzeria & Restaurant Dec. 15, but not to grab a bite to eat. She had a busy day ahead. Her schedule only allowed for a short stop at the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce’s annual holiday luncheon. But the local business owners knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Kennedy would come by to say hello and ask how they were doing.

“Even though she only had 10 minutes, she came by to show her support,” said Christine DeAugustino, president of the Nesconset chamber. “We are so grateful for her support.”

It’s no surprise to residents when Suffolk Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) or her husband, county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), show up together at a business luncheon, parade, street fair, blood drive, civic association meeting or any number of local events.

“They are huge supporters of the local community,” DeAugustino said. “They are tremendous. Every time we have an event, her and her husband both come.”

Now both elected county officials, they have deep roots in public service and dedication to their constituents. John Kennedy Jr. was first elected to the Suffolk County Legislature representing the 12th District in 2004, where he served for 10 years.

“John has been there from the very, very beginning when they were reconstructing Smithtown Boulevard, Rosevale Avenue and Gibbs Pond Road intersection,” said Martin Aponte, president of the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park in Nesconset.

John Kennedy Jr. was fundamental in securing the land for the memorial to first responders who died on 9/11 or as a result of 9/11-related illnesses, Aponte said, and even set aside his office’s roundtable space for the organization’s meetings. Leslie Kennedy has continued to set aside meeting space for the foundation since filling her husband’s shoes, being first elected to represent the 12th District in  the county Legislature in 2015.

They are extremely involved in the community, both John and Leslie, most of the time you’ll find them there. They have a very positive effect on the community.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“[Leslie]’s not only there for moral support for the chamber and businesses, she’s always there for me as a resource,” DeAugustino said. “She makes herself and the office available to the people of Nesconset as a resource.”

The Kennedys, together, have sponsored and help establish the chamber’s annual Nesconset Summer Concert Series which draws hundreds of residents to the Nesconset Gazebo each July and August.

“They are extremely involved in the community, both John and Leslie,” Smithtown Supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Most of the time you’ll find them there. They have a very positive effect on the community.”

Wehrheim said the county comptroller has always been responsive to Town of Smithtown’s tax questions and fiscal concerns.

“What he is there for, that I appreciate, is anytime we have a question he makes himself and his experience available to us,” Wehrheim said.

Similarly, the town officials are in frequent communication with the current legislator regarding how to best address and tackle the opioid issue in Smithtown and as a channel to communicate with Suffolk County police. The supervisor-elect said the Kennedys have been helpful in pushing the downtown revitalization of Kings Park forward at the county level through their respective offices.

This year, Legislator Kennedy secured the acquisition and preservation of the Hauppauge Springs property on the south side of Route 347 in Hauppauge, preserving open space at the headwaters of the Nissequogue River. It’s been sitting on the county’s master list of environmentally sensitive priority properties for more than 20 years, dating back to when she worked as a legislative aide.

The legislator has called it one of her biggest victories, one she hopes will be remembered as part of her legacy. It was a priority, she said, to protect the environment and help ensure safe drinking water for local residents.

 

Huntington resident Marie Destil is the owner of owner of Gingerbites Restaurant & Catering in Huntington Station. Photo from Marie Destil.

By Jill Webb

A Huntington resident with a passion for cooking opened her doors to help the people of her native Haiti, and in reaching out that helping hand, has made the world a bit smaller and better.

At 14 years old, Marie Michele Destil moved from her native island of Haiti to the United States. Now, 35 years later, Destil is the owner of Gingerbites Restaurant & Catering in Huntington Station.

At Gingerbites, along with serving authentic Haitian cuisine, Destil has used her business as a platform to help Haitian relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

Destil said she has always had a love for cooking and showed signs of being the entrepreneur she would become at a young age.

“I remember when I was maybe 10 or 11 my mother would have friends come over and I’d go make coffee and then serve it with bread and sell it to them,” she said. “If you don’t buy it, I’ll cry.”

After her 18-year-old twin girls and 22-year-old son went off to college, Destil wanted to focus on something more grounded and local. Destil decided to use her experience in catering to open up Gingerbites in late 2015. The restaurant aims at bringing the culture and cuisine of Haiti to Huntington Station.

“We’re from an island, so we’re very simple people with very distinct taste and a very distinct way of life,” Destil said.

Then when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, more than 1,000 of Haiti’s citizens were killed according to Reuters. Destil said upon hearing the shocking news the first thing she thought about was the people.

“You have to remember not that long ago we came from the earthquake in Haiti, so that was the most devastating thing that ever happened to us there,” she said. “But when Matthew happened, you’re like ‘Oh, my God.’ But my thought is that no matter what happened, Haitian people are resilient people. They’ll survive. It’s hard, it’s difficult, but they’re not quitters.”

Destil had and continues to have a strong faith in her homeland, despite all it’s been through.

“That island [has] gone through a lot but with the help of God it’s still standing,” she said.

The restaurant owner recognized the importance of supporting her homeland and the residents struggling in Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath.

Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) recalled when Haitian groups were starting to partner with the Town of Huntington’s relief efforts, Destil jumped at the chance to help.

“She’s a very bubbly and hardworking person,” Cuthbertson said.

Destil partnered with the town in November 2016 to raise donations for the charity, Meds & Food for Kids. The nonprofit organization focuses on the malnourished children of Haiti, providing them with ready-to-use therapeutic food. Their food is made in Haiti by Haitian workers, and they aim to use Haitian raw materials as much as possible.

One of the many reasons that charity was so important to Destil was her love for children.

“I love all kids, I’m a sucker for that,” Destil said.

Also important in narrowing down the search was to find a charity where most of the proceeds go directly to people in need. Finding out that the Meds & Food charity gives the majority of its proceeds to the children made it an easy choice.

“The children [are] our future, so invest in them,” she said.

Destil was honored Oct. 26 at the town’s 16th annual Women’s Networking Day luncheon for her charitable efforts.

As her business continues to grow, Destil hopes in the future to partner with more charities to help the Haitian community as much as she possibly can.

State assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick with Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton of Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Smithtown. Photo from Facebook.

Pastoring a historic church with a small congregation needs confidence and faith — two qualities the reverend of Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church at 229 New York Ave. in Smithtown naturally possesses.

The Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton has been ensuring Trinity carries on since AME Bishop Richard Franklin Norris appointed her pastor five and a half years ago. While the church currently only has a handful of active congregants, the reverend isn’t worried.

“Numbers aren’t important,” Bailey-Walton said. “We make sure doors are open for anyone that needs us.”

She said during services and events, Smithtown residents and members of other AME churches, including Bethel AME Church in Setauket, will join Trinity’s regulars.

“We always have people stop by to see what’s going on and get involved,” Bailey-Walton said. “The neighbors around us are active as far as stopping by to see what’s going on and just letting us know that they’re there for us if we need them.”

Her motto is even if it’s one [person] she has service.”

— Marlyn Leonard

Marlyn Leonard, wife of the Rev. Gregory Leonard of Bethel AME Church, said she has attended services at Trinity. Also, Bailey-Walton preaches at the Setauket church the third Sunday of every month.

“Her motto is even if it’s one [person] she has service,” Leonard said.

Leonard said the reverend’s sermons are phenomenal, and she recommends that churchgoers stop by Trinity to see Bailey-Walton in action.

“She’s happy all the time,” she said. “When you see her, she greets with a smile and a hug. That’s who she is.”

Bailey-Walton said Trinity AME celebrated its 107th anniversary in November.

“I feel that we’re significant in Smithtown,” she said. “We’re the only African-American church — even though we embrace all the community — but still it’s historical.”

The property was once the meeting spot for freed slaves in the town who would gather regularly on the property and, in 1910, their descendants built a church on the land, according to “Smithtown, New York, 1660-1929: Looking Back Through the Lens” by Noel Gish. In 1931, the AME Church of Smithtown bought the structure for a dollar from Isadora Smith.

State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he remembers playing basketball as a teenager in Brady Park across from the church on Sunday mornings and seeing people dressed in their finest attire. For him, recognizing the historical importance of the church is important. Fitzpatrick is reaching out to representatives of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to see if the church can receive recognition from the state’s Historic Preservation Office and possible financial assistance.

We’re the only African-American church — even though we embrace all the community — but still it’s historical.”

— Rev. Myrel Bailey-Walton

Bailey-Walton said she balances her responsibilities as pastor with working full time and spending time with her husband, Leland, and 1-year-old child. To spread the word about the church, the reverend regularly posts on social media and the internet.

The reverend and Trinity’s congregation plan a variety of events through the year, including the church’s anniversary gala in November, an open house for the community and a Women’s Day event.

Leonard said Bailey-Walton juggles her responsibilities with grace and elegance.

“She answers her calling very well,” she said. “I can’t say enough about her. Since I’ve known her, she just grasps everything in a bundle, and what needs to be done, she gets it done by the grace of God.”

Leonard said in addition to working with her congregation, Bailey-Walton is always there to help with people outside of her community, especially when it comes to children or wherever there is a need by
participating in volunteer efforts.

“She’s a role model not only for God’s house but also for the community and others,” Leonard said.

Fitzpatrick said Bailey-Walton has been working with groups such as the Boys Scouts and Royal Rangers from Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle to complete projects at the church and grounds. Work that he said is significant due to the church’s historical importance. The assemblyman believes Bailey-Walton is a perfect fit for the church and is confident in her leadership abilities.

“She is a dynamo, she really is,” he said. “She is very committed. She knows God has her back, and she’s going to do her very best to keep this church alive. Any recognition of her is well deserved.”

JIm Powers, president of the Townwide Fund oF Huntington, at their annual gala. Photo from Facebook

By Kyle Barr

There’s a Huntington man who keeps himself awake at night, driven to make sure he does his best to raise funds for charity — benefiting not one, but nearly 40 organizations.

Jim Powers, the president of The Townwide Fund of Huntington, thinks of his time with a business-like aim toward efficiency. He wants to get the biggest bang for his time.

As president of the fund, an organization created by the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce to raise funds for local charities, Powers funnels his time and energy toward aiding 39 nonprofit organizations. In 2017, the fund gave out more than $200,000 to charities in and around the Town of Huntington.

Jimmy Powers has been credited by some for saving the Townwide Fund of Huntington. Photo from Townwide Fund of Huntington

“It’s almost one size fits all,” he said. “You’re putting all your time into one organization [where] you can affect 39 different charities touching tens of thousands of different people in the town. Our tagline is, ‘The money raised in Huntington stays in Huntington.’”

Powers dedicates hours each week to the fund, whether it is looking for donations, supporting charity events, hosting their own fundraising events and more. At full board meetings, he’s known to bring coffee and bagels, knowing that all but one board member is a volunteer. Powers wants to show that their time is appreciated.

Powers is also a volunteer for the fund.

“He’s the heart and soul of this organization,” said Gloria Palacios, executive director of The Townwide Fund. “Our fundraising events are the most important thing that we do and Jim gets behind each one because he’s so driven to make sure that we get all the sponsorships and ticket sales and what not.”

Palacios said she marvels at the amount of time Powers puts into the organization, knowing he works many hours a week teaching at New York Institute of Technology and is also the director of business development for Bohler Engineering. She often teases him, Palacios said, knowing in the two or three days before The Townwide Fund events he doesn’t sleep, anxiously making sure every last detail works out perfectly.

“I keep telling him, ‘That it’s not your event, it’s a team event,’ but he says, ‘I know, but this needs to work for the town,’”
Palacios said.

Nine years ago, The Townwide Fund was nearly closed. Many people on the board point to Powers as the person who saved the fund from collapse. He drew up a business plan, replaced much of the board with what he called a “young, vibrant board” including not just business leaders but bankers, architects, attorneys, teachers and stay-at-home moms.

“He’s probably raised more money and given away more money than any other president in the fund’s history,” said Dave Gustin, vice president of the board and president of Melville Chamber of Commerce.

He’s the heart and soul of this organization.
— Gloria Palacios 

Others say Powers is the first person to make phone calls or jump in when something needs to be fixed. Carl Adler, third vice president of The Townwide Fund, recalled one day when they drove by one of the organization’s fundraiser signs together and realized it had been hit by a truck.

“We decided to get out — we had a shovel in the car — and fix it up together,” Adler said. “It’s very typical of Jim when something comes up, he’s going to fix it or he’s going to get people involved.”

Bob Bontempi, founding board member of Long Island Business Council and former chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, said Powers supports not only The Townwide Fund but is visually active in several other organizations.

“I don’t know how he has the energy to do all the things he does,” Bontempi said. “He’s just one of those people that you go to because he’s a visible leader, and it’s the totality of selfless effort and time over the years that finally needs to be recognized.

Kings Park closed out the week with seventh straight Suffolk County and Long Island crowns. Photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

Securing seven years of bad luck is as simple as breaking a mirror or walking under a ladder, but earning seven years of good luck is much more complicated.

After taking over a losing program, Kings Park varsity volleyball coaches Lizz and Ed Manly have steered the Kingsmen to seven straight Suffolk County and Long Island championship titles.

“They’re straightforward — if you’re not doing something correctly, or doing something you shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to let you know,” said senior Erika Benson. “But I think everybody needs someone like that in their life. They don’t sugar coat things for you.”

The middle hitter said her married mentors not only care about their Kingsmen as players, but as people. This is chiefly due to Ed Manly’s job as a guidance counselor within the high school.

“Mr. Manly is always asking us if everything is OK, and if he can help us in any way to let him know,” Benson said. “As a guidance counselor, he’s helped us seniors a lot with anything we went to him with regarding college.”

Senior Kara Haase said the girls have improved on and off the court because of the values of friendship and family fostered within the program by the Manlys. She said she has seen it firsthand for the last six years.

“Our success has to do a lot with our coaches — they pushed us every day,” she said. “They not only taught us to strive to be better as players and teammates, but as individuals. Their coaching style can be strict, but all they want is for us to have fun while competing at a high level. It has truly been an honor playing for them.”

Head coach Ed Manly talks to his athletes between sets. Photo by Bill Landon

Lexi Petraitis said she first met Lizz Manly when she was in fourth grade during a volleyball clinic, where the coach pulled her aside to teach her how to use her height to hit in the middle of the front row. She played for Manly when she was on the middle school team. The coach was pregnant at the time, and remained at the helm up until the day she gave birth.

“I think that Lizz and Ed were two of the most dedicated coaches I’ve ever seen in any sport,” the senior said, noting how Lizz Manly also attended the state championship finals to watch her husband and her girls compete when she was nine months pregnant with the second of her two children. “If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.”

This past fall Kings Park finished with its second straight undefeated League V season, going 14-0, and snatched its seventh straight county and LIC crowns. The seven seniors in a rotation of eight secured a fourth consecutive appearance in the state tournament, finishing third after the group came in second in 2016.

“On the court, although they push us to our physical and sometimes emotional limits, the team and they know that it’s a prime example of ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it will only make you stronger,’ and they most definitely made us stronger,” Petraitis said. “If they didn’t push us as hard as they did I doubt the legacy they created would’ve existed. They are the type of coaches that do everything in their power to make us successful.”

Current Iona College standout Amanda Gannon, a 2015 Kings Park graduate, was the first volleyball player to win four straight Long Island titles in school history. She said she first met Lizz Manly when she was in sixth grade. Manly was her physical education teacher, and persuaded her to join the volleyball team. Gannon went on to become the all-time kills leader in Kings Park school history.

“She was always so caring and kindhearted,” Gannon said. “I love going to her office even just to talk to her. I was super excited when I joined the team to be led by such an understanding, loving person.”

Gannon was called up to the varsity team as a freshman, playing under Manly until she graduated, which was when her coach’s husband grabbed the reins so his wife could focus on raising their family.

“Luckily, my husband took over for me so I can still feel a little involved, and he did a great job,” Manly said. “With confidence and determination, they continued the Kings Park volleyball tradition.”

Kings Park player Amanda Gannon with coach Lizz Manly. File photo from Bill Denniston

Gannon said it’s because the Kingsmen always wanted to make them proud.

“We were all so motivated to play for them,” she said. “We wanted to prove to them how good we can be. It started by having good culture, being who you are, respecting yourself and respecting the program. All four of my years we really embraced that.”

Petraitis shared a similar sentiment about her coaches’ accessibility and warmth.

“I’ve never had a coach other than Lizz and Ed that I have felt so comfortable asking them anything,” she said. “If I ever had a question about a free ball play or footwork, etc., I’ve never been scared to ask. There aren’t words to describe how much I appreciate them and how much they have influenced my life. They have been with me throughout and supported every single part of my volleyball career.”

Ed Manly wrote in a letter to family, friends and fans that he and his wife will be retiring, stating that stepping down was the hardest thing he has done, but said it’s been difficult to put in the time needed with a growing family.

“Today was by far the hardest day we have had as coaches,” he said. “We have stated time and time again to our athletes that family comes first, and at the present time giving our program the time it deserves no longer was possible. We are so incredibly thankful to every player we coached, every coach we have become friends with and competed against, and all of our volleyball friends we have met along the way. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing families in such an amazingly supportive community.”

Their departure will undoubtedly leave a hole at one of the most successful athletic
programs in any sport in Suffolk County.

“It’s sad to see them leaving,” Gannon said. “They took a failing program and turned it around to be one of the most successful on Long Island. They have changed so many people’s lives and have established a community that will never be torn down. They will be greatly missed, but I’m truly grateful for all that they’d done for me, my teammates and Kings Park. I know that what they have
created will last forever.”

Former Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards won the Democratic town supervisor primary. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Town of Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) learned a lot about herself in 2017. For one, she’s not a politician.

The 56-year-old Huntington native, who lost to state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) in the November race for town supervisor, will not be returning to the town board Jan. 1. But she is proud of the campaign she led and the community-oriented issues it centered on.

Edwards ran for Huntington’s top seat instead of taking the admittedly safer route of running as an incumbent for re-election to the town board. When asked why, she repeatedly said, “This is not about me. This is about what I believe is best for Huntington.”

She has always seen herself as a community advocate and public servant, first and foremost, a trait noticed and respected by those she has served.

Tracey Edward (D) was first elected to Huntington Town Board in 2012.

“At the end of the day, I’m a community advocate,” Edwards said. “The nastiness and personal attacks in elections were never things I was ever interested in. I want to help people and our town. True public servants don’t stop doing that just because they lose an election.”

In junior high school, she got her official start in community service as a candy striper at Huntington Hospital. She was encouraged to give back to the community by her father — a narcotics detective on the town’s former police force — and mother, Dolores Thompson, a Huntington activist still going strong today.

Edwards has served on the board of directors of the Long Island Association in Melville and is the Long Island regional director of the NAACP — a post she said she looks forward to returning to.

As councilwoman and supervisor candidate, she focused on making Huntington a more inclusive place for everybody, regardless of age, race, gender or economic bracket.

“We have a very robust, diverse and unique town that is filled with wonderful neighborhoods and great communities,” Edwards said. “There’s no place else I would rather live. While I wish Chad Lupinacci the best, I’ll be keeping my eye on him to make sure this town continues to move in the right direction for all.”


True public servants don’t stop doing that just because they lose an election.

— Tracey Edwards

During her four years in office, Edwards has worked alongside Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) to expand affordable housing legislation for millennials and first-time home buyers and has been hands-on with youth-based programs that focus on character building, recreation and tackling the drug problem. She created a special annual luncheon, dubbed Memories of Huntington, to honor seniors age 75 or older, who have lived in town for more than 50 years, for their contributions to Huntington’s history.

“Tracey is not a politician’s politician … she’s for the people,” said Jo Ann Veit, a member of the Senior Reunion committee. “People love her because she’s there for them and she gives you that feeling that she’s there for you, thinking about you and the town, and what would be best for the seniors in the town. When people leave that reunion, they’re all so pleased with Tracey and how genuine she is. She has been a wonderful councilwoman.”

Bob Santo, commander of Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244, has gotten the same sense of sincerity from Edwards in the years they’ve known each other.

“The first time I met Tracey was during a parade in Huntington Station and she was on the back of a motorcycle being ridden by one of our American Legion motorcycle [members] — she was having a grand old time,” Santo said, laughing. “With Tracey, what you see is what you get, and what she says is what she means. She’s never trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”

Councilwomen Susan Berland and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards spotted at the parade on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 . Photo by Stephen Jimenez

Santo praised the councilwoman for spearheading the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, a program that offers assistance with résumé preparation, job searches, career options and job training access for unemployed and low-income residents, many of whom are veterans.

Edwards said her proudest accomplishment has been her ability to turn difficult times in her life into something beneficial to those around her. Upon being diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016, she was determined not to miss a single board meeting and scheduled her chemotherapy, radiation and surgery sessions around them.

When she finally became cancer-free, Edwards, who said she goes for breast cancer screenings once a year, realized there were probably so many women out there who may not be aware of the importance of screenings or have access to health care.

She partnered with Huntington Hospital-Northwell Health to host an education program on preventative screening exams, risk assessment, nutrition and information for free breast cancer screenings at Huntington Town Hall.

She also helped to rewrite the town’s ethics code to make town hall a more transparent place for residents.

NAACP New York State Conference president, Hazel Dukes, commended Edwards for fighting for the rights of all people, regardless of race, creed or color.


She didn’t want to go back as a councilwoman and why would she? You don’t go backward, you keep going forward.

— Dolores Thompson

“I know that Tracey Edwards is a committed and dedicated public servant,” Dukes said. “She truly brings conviction to the cause of equality and justice for all people. She’s embodied that in her professional life, as a worker in the NAACP and her political life.”

Edward’s work ethic comes as no surprise to her mother, Dolores Thompson.

“This year she’s had the initiative and aggressiveness and guts, in plain old English, to run for supervisor in this special community,” Thompson said. “She’s a trooper, a very strong woman who speaks her mind, and I’m very sure she will do something even better for this community as she progresses. She didn’t want to go back as a councilwoman and why would she? You don’t go backward, you keep going forward.”

Edwards, who lives in Dix Hills with her husband, was recognized by outgoing
Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) during a town board meeting Dec. 13.

“Four years ago, we were blessed with a person that I have never, ever encountered someone with more energy and the ability to move in and create change,” Petrone said. “A woman who has given so much in the short, short four years to the Town of Huntington and its residents … Tracey Edwards, we the members of the Huntington Town Board on behalf of the residents of Huntington wish to extend our sincere thanks to you for service to our community.”

Edwards thanked members of the community and assured all in the room her journey isn’t over.

“You haven’t heard the last of me,” she said. “You have not.”

Port Jefferson High School Principal Christine Austen. File photo

Being named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education is an achievement that takes a village, but leaders in Port Jefferson School District attribute the designation to one confident, tough yet compassionate woman.

Christine Austen is in her third year as principal at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. In that short period of time, according to her colleagues, she has imposed her strong will, ideas and work ethic on the school and is the person most responsible for the school being recognized on a national level in September with the Blue Ribbon honor.

“The award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in striving for — and attaining — exemplary achievement,” the education department’s website says regarding qualifications for Blue Ribbon distinction. About 300 public schools nationwide were awarded in 2017.

Teachers Eva Grasso and Jesse Rosen accompany Austen to Washington, D.C., as part of receiving the award. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

For helping to earn the prestigious award for Port Jeff and for her tireless efforts to improve the academic, social and emotional well being of all of her students, Times Beacon Record News Media named Austen a 2017 Person of the Year.

“The things that are happening at the high school among the staff, with the students, with the community, you can’t have those things happening without a principal who’s really moving it, is a big part of it, gets involved — she does not look at the clock,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said.

According to Jessica Schmettan, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, Austen’s relentless commitment to analyzing the effectiveness of academic programs and initiatives, and examining results with a critical eye have created quantitative improvements in student performance since she became principal.

“She’s always attuned to the data to help push the academic limits forward, and we definitely see those quantitative results,” Schmettan said. The curriculum and instruction director pointed out Austen’s strengths as a principal are far from limited to fostering academic excellence though. “The principals I’ve worked with always demonstrated a clear strength — who was more of a social and emotional leader, who was more of an instructional leader, who focused more on the community. Everybody that I worked with demonstrated a strength in certain areas, where Chris I think embodies all of those things and that’s really unique.”

Austen and her husband Phil are each products of the Port Jefferson School District and community. She got her start working for the district as a librarian, and eventually served as a kindergarten-through-12th grade assistant principal for her first foray into the administration world. Despite competing against at least one other candidate with experience as a principal, Austen wowed the school board at her interview, which led to her earning the position.

“She came in the room, straightened her back, she sat in the chair and just emitted this confidence that, ‘I’m going to nail this, I’m going to give you my best answers,’” board of education President Kathleen Brennan said. Brennan said Austen’s confidence, without arrogance, stood out during her interview and has translated seamlessly into the position.

Many of her colleagues spoke about Austen’s knack for deftly walking the fine line between holding students accountable without being punitive, while always remaining positive and generally warm.

“If you’re working in this field, and she’s no exception, her ‘put the students first’ mentality is definitely a great strength,” Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier said.

Bernier shared a story about an incident that occurred during a pool party at a student’s home in 2016.

Port Jefferson high school Principal Christine Austen, second from right, and others from the school celebrate its National Blue Ribbon School award. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

A student at the party, who frequently had seizures, was the only person in the pool at one point. Bernier said he noticed something was wrong with the student, and realized he might be having a full seizure in the pool at that moment.

“It only took a second,” Bernier recalled. “I said, ‘Is he OK?’ You saw something and he started to go down and before I even blinked my eyes, [Austen] was in the pool. If he went under he was going to take in water right away, and it was literally before I could even blink my eyes she was in the water.”

Bernier noted, Austen is far from an avid swimmer and the student was much taller than her, making the rescue no simple task.

“It took quite a bit of courage to dive into that pool,” said Edna Louise Spear Elementary School Principal Tom Meehan, who also was at the party.

Middle school Principal Robert Neidig, who started the same year as Austen, said he considers her a mentor. He said she’s great at giving one on one advice, but he also loves to hear her speak publicly because she strikes a perfect tone of humility and warmth accompanied with an unquestionable confidence that creates a perfect mixture for a leader.

“I couldn’t imagine doing the job without having her perspective,” he said.

Casciano summed up some firsthand observations he’s had since Austen took over at the high school.

“You’ll see her in the hallway putting her arm around a child,” he said. “She knows them and knows just from expressions on their faces, she could tell whether or not they’re having a good day, bad day. And if things look like they aren’t going well, she’ll engage the student and try to encourage them.”